Maggie’s Legislative Update for March 5, 2010

Posted by quinn on March 5, 2010  |   Comments Off on Maggie’s Legislative Update for March 5, 2010

Dear Friends,

I have three developments I’d like to share with you in this update. One strikes close to home because it addresses the tragic death of a Johns Hopkins student last fall. Another looks at the negative impact the GOP budget cut plans will have on Baltimore City and the rest of the state. And the last gives us something to be hopeful about: the Attorney General’s recent decision concerning out-of-state same-sex marriages.

Drunk Driving Legislation

Last year, we took significant steps to curb drunk driving in Maryland. Following the recommendations of a cross-jurisdictional panel of law enforcement and transportation officials, community members, and the judiciary, Governor O’Malley and the General Assembly passed a series of bills that collectively implement a number of the recommendations of the Task Force to Combat Driving Under the Influence of Drugs and Alcohol. According to the Department of Transportation, one third of all fatalities over the past five years involved alcohol. The most significant of the 2009 bills imposes a mandatory one-year license suspension for a person convicted of drunk driving more than once in a five-year period. Other bills tightened underage drinking laws and addressed repeat offenders.

Following the death of Miriam Frankl, the Johns Hopkins University student who was struck and killed in Charles Village by a repeat drunk driving offender, legislation has been introduced this year making ignition interlock systems mandatory for those convicted of their first offense for drunk driving in our state. Currently, the MVA has an Ignition Interlock System program in place that establishes strong incentives for drivers to choose ignition interlock over other penalties like license suspension or revocation. A court may also order participation in the program as a condition of sentencing. Ten states in the country have a mandatory program for first time offenders with a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater; eight other states do so for a blood alcohol content of .15 or greater. It’s time we join this fight. It’s time to get drunk drivers off the road, and pedestrians out of harm’s way.

Republican Budget Cuts Target Baltimore City and Other Urban Areas

A joint hearing was held last week by the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, providing a forum for Republican leadership to formally present their suggestions on how Maryland can continue balance its budget while preserving the services that taxpayers count on. The hearing, open to the public, was held at the invitation of Democratic Leadership following a vote by the Republican members of the Spending Affordability Committee (SAC) to cut $2.5 billion from the budget. Two different plans were offered, one by the House Republican Caucus and another by Republican Senators Brinkley and Pipkin. Senate Minority Leader Kittleman chose not to attend and offer a Senate Republican leadership budget, despite both his continued public comments regarding a lack of opportunity to be part of the budget process, and his SAC vote to cut $2.5 billion.

The GOP Senate and House proposals cut $1.065 billion and $829 million from the FY 2011 budget respectively – a far cry from the $2.5 billion reduction proposed at SAC. Additionally, and very importantly for our district, the proposed GOP cuts will add up to an increase of 1.41 cents to the dollar on our Baltimore City property taxes.

A snapshot of the proposed cuts included in the plans:

  • $764 million in cuts to both our K-12 and higher education funding, including $126 million from the Global Cost of Education Index, a program that is vital to supporting the work of Baltimore City’s schools in particular
  • Thousands of layoffs and decreased compensation for all state employees and retirees, including police and corrections officers, and education staff
  • Large cuts targeting Maryland’s metropolitan areas, creating a disproportionate impact on Baltimore City
  • $55 million in transportation cuts and $38 million in public safety cuts
  • Significant phantom cuts, like “Additional Actions” or “Agency Costs” and “Efficiency Audits” to bolster their cut number without really making cuts
  • Cost shifts and reductions to county and local governments, who will respond with either cutting services or raising taxes
  • Neither offered concrete long term plans to reduce our structural deficit other than “limited” growth
  • Complete elimination of the Chesapeake Bay Restoration fund
  • A willingness to offer “symbolic” cuts designed to stoke the partisan fires, not form a bipartisan consensus on the tough cuts taxpayers expect us to make

As we move forward and the rhetoric continues to heat up, these facts are indisputable:

  • The Governor and General Assembly balance Maryland’s budget EVERY year
  • This year’s General Fund budget is $12.7 Billion and smaller than even the FY 2007 budget
  • We have cut over $5.5 billion since 2008 from the budget, making the tough decisions that our constituents expect from us
  • We have already eliminated 3,500 positions, making government smaller and more efficient
  • Maryland is one of 7 states that continues to be certified with a Triple-A bond rating

The House Appropriations Committee will hold a work session in the coming weeks to analyze these recommendations for possible inclusion in the Committee’s final budget proposal, and I will be working with the other members of the Baltimore City Delegate to make sure our districts don’t shoulder a disproportionate burden in the final accounting.

Attorney General Gansler Issues Opinion Concerning Out-of-State Same-Sex Marriages.

Lastly, I was very pleased when, a little over a week ago, the Attorney General issued his opinion that state agencies legally must recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. In doing so, he cited constitutional provisions and other legal principles that recognize contractual agreements and laws made in other states, but we should remember that the opinion only constitutes guidance for state agencies and is not legally binding. There will likely be legal challenges to the opinion in the coming weeks, and several bills in that vein have already been introduced and heard in the House Judiciary Committee.

I am confident that these bills will fail, and hopefully there will also be significant forward momentum for several of the bills in favor of LGBT rights as a result of the AG’s decision (e.g. House Bill 808, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act; House Bill 1022, the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act; House Bill 1272, the Family Medical Leave Act; House Bill 1241, Family Law – De Facto Parents; and House Bill 462, Education – Discrimination Prohibited – Protected Classes).

In sum, we have some promising legislation, ongoing budgetary challenges, and forward momentum in one of the defining civil rights struggles before us. Please continue to send me your thoughts as we move toward the conclusion of this session in mid-April. I look forward to hearing from you.